After months of complaining about school and one too many extracurricular activities, we are finally free to relax and bask in the summer sun. However, like many families, my family of six is not relaxing; instead, we are heading out on the open road from South Florida to upstate New York.
Usually, when I tell people I am going on a road trip with my four children who are all under the age of 10, they stare at me with wide eyes and a look that says “you must be crazy.” I get even stranger looks when I say I am going by myself or, rather, sans husband.
For many people, the thought of traveling in a car with children makes them break out in a cold sweat. I, however, love road trips even when young children are involved. No, I am not insane or a glutton for punishment, but I have found that there are many ways road trips with kids can be made easier and even, shockingly enough, fun!
My preparation for a road trip usually involves planning, lots of planning. This planning is what helps us all enjoy our road trips a little more. If you are planning a road trip, or are at least contemplating the thought of one, I have compiled a list of the top 10 things that are crucial to a fun-filled trip. I have used these tips to enjoy tens of thousands of miles on the road with my family. These tips will, hopefully, help you keep your sanity and your Christianity.
1) Travel at night. If you have young children, say under the age of 5, a good bet for a peaceful drive is to travel at night. Yes, mom and dad may arrive exhausted, but at least they’ll arrive (semi) sane.
2) Leave early in the morning. If you don’t want to drive straight through the night, another option is to leave early, early in the morning. This way once you are on the road, your children will fall back asleep and offer the parents at least a few hours of uninterrupted driving.
3) Electronics are your friend. We live in a beautiful day and age where hand-held electronics and DVD players for the car are readily available—use them. Even if you are strictly against technology, road trips are a time when they are desperately needed and should be utilized to their fullest extent.
4) Bring other activities for when electronics become boring (or run out of juice). Books, books on cd, coloring sheets, and car games are all good ways to keep children occupied.
5) Bring food, lots of food. Goldfish® crackers have saved me more than a few times on the road. However, make sure to bring drinks as well to wash down the crackers; otherwise, you will regret it when the wails of “I’m thirsty” start to echo through the car.
6) Plan your overnight stops. Don’t use the wait and see method when it comes to finding a hotel; you will regret it. Nothing is more stressful than being exhausted and trying desperately to find a (reasonable) hotel. I have been surprised more than once at how busy roadside hotels tend to be, even on weekdays.
7) Give yourself enough time to stop. Children are known for their ridiculously small bladders and nowhere will that be more evident than on a road trip. Also, if you (like me) have multiple children, bathroom stops will take two times (three times, four times) as long. We also usually leave enough time to let the kids run around at these stops. Nothing helps relax the tension of a long drive more than getting out and taking a short walk.
8) Plan a fun stop. If your trip is somewhere mundane, such as a family member’s house, and you want to up the excitement level for your children, try planning a fun stop along the way. On the way to my mother’s house in upstate New York, we often plan a stop in Washington D.C. The city offers a myriad of free museums and public spaces that are both fun and educational.
9) Offer an incentive. Give your children a prize for a peaceful road trip. Whether it’s a toy or an activity that your child enjoys, positive behavior reinforced by a reward will certainly help the long hours in the car go by a little faster.
10) Pray and give your children, and yourself, a lot of grace. Even the most well-planned trips may not go as planned, so remember that prayer goes a long way and should always be the first line of defense in every area of life, even the fun ones. Road trips are a blast but can also be exhausting, so remember the grace our loving Heavenly Father so generously offers to us and remember to offer it to your children (and yourself).
Family road trips are a fun way to expose your children to the many beautiful things our country has to offer and it allows you uninterrupted time with your children. Don’t let the fear of the unknown keep you from enjoying a fun summer trip on the open road with your whole family.